I want to wrap up this series on thinking more creatively with student ministry by focusing on the more practical aspects of how to actually go about doing this. Because I doubt too many would say they are against being more creative in ministry. It’s just a matter of having the time or the energy to try new things, and dealing with those who would hold a tight line on “how things have always been.” So being creative in student ministry is great. But how do we do this?
The trouble with addressing the how question is that, in order to be creative with ministry in the sense that I’ve been addressing, only you as a student ministries pastor, volunteer or parent can answer that question. If I give an answer or a five step approach to creatively thinking about your ministry, it is no longer creative. So the following are some thoughts and principles I’ve seen work in ministry, as well as a few principles I have read along the way.
- Know your students. Whether or not you are trying to be “creative” with your ministry, this is the single most important dimension of your ministry to students. From everything to programming to counseling, if you don’t know your students, you will fail. When it comes to creatively approaching your ministry, you must know your students’ own talents, passions and desires if you want to expand the creative scope of your ministry. Otherwise, you will be imposing activities and approaches to ministry that have no context with where your students are
- Affirm and encourage the unique skills of your students in person, in programming and on stage. It’s one thing to know that a student loves photography; it’s another thing to express interest in their latest project, or to incorporate a picture they took into your talk or Powerpoint. If your student loves painting, or math, or writing, don’t just nod – ask them about it! Their passions and creative outlets are part of who they are and how God has created them. Affirm this whenever you can. If you have several students who love photography, or painting, or DJing, consider what kind of programming (small group, discipleship group, tech team, etc) you can develop to put these creative desires to use. Embracing rather than ignoring the creativity of your students communicates that you care about them as a whole person, not just for the sake of their soul’s eternal destination.
- Think multi-sensory. As mentioned in the first post of this series, we often only display two skill-sets in our worship: communication through spoken word and music. But people learn in a multitude of ways – through listening, or seeing, or experiencing or acting. Personally, I am a very visual and kinesthetic learner. I learn best when I can see something and do it. Embrace a perspective on teaching that acknowledges the variety of learners in your midst. Get your graphic design students to design a logo for your ministry or teaching series. Have a student paint a picture of a Bible story as you retell it. Also, consider the space that you do ministry in. What kind of atmosphere are you presenting for students as they come to your meeting times? For some of your more visual/artistic students, a dull meeting space can be a turn off. So embrace their artistic vision and get them on board to design a space that reflects the spiritual nature of your ministry.
- Help students develop a creative spiritual imagination. This goes a bit deeper than programming, to how we help our students think about God and their own spiritual lives. We have to help our students get over their own dualistic ways of thinking about their lives – spiritual life happens in church or when reading the Bible and praying, and secular life happens every other time. Part of this includes expanding the typical “read your Bible and pray” view of spiritual activities, and embracing some other spiritual disciplines in our own practice and teaching our students to do the same.
We have a very head-heavy evangelical faith. In my own experience, the spiritual practices encouraged in student ministry usually consists of daily “devotions” and prayer, both of which involve individual students and only within the confines of their own thought life. If we want students to embrace a faith that acts, a faith that moves, we can do so by helping students see the totality of their lives as a “spiritual act of worship,” to quote Romans 12.
In many ways, our programming in student ministry has programmed the spiritual lives of students – we teach to their heads and hearts, and so their faith stays within and is never acted upon. But God is not interested in our spirits alone – He wants the sum total of who we are, our physical bodies included. By embracing the creative gifts of our students, we can help them develop a view of their spirituality that involves the whole of who they are – body and soul.Some additional resources to consider in this: Sacred Space: A Hands on Guide to Creating Multisensory Worship Experiences for Youth Ministry by Dan Kimball The Use of Arts in Urban Evangelism and Discipleship by Brian Bakke. A great article in Heart for the City, a larger volume on urban ministry The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life by Tony Jones. Overview of spiritual disciples that could be incorporated into student ministry practices